Day 465: Little Egypt

Southern Illinois is often called “Little Egypt,” and, indeed, it has many Egyptian associations. It has towns named “Thebes” and “Karnak,” and, although it is consistently mispronounced, one called “Cairo.” There are several stories about how the association between southern Illinois and Egypt came about. One is that food shortages in the north in the early nineteenth century caused northerners to come south to buy grain in the manner of the Old Testament account of the sons of Jacob. A second is that the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at the southern tip of Illinois somehow resembles the Nile delta. A third is that one of the belly dancers who performed as “Little Egypt” at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago was a southern Illinois native.

Laetitia decided to bring her group to Thebes. Thebes, Illinois bears little resemblance to the Egyptian original, except that it is also on the east bank of a river, the Mississippi. It is a town of around 500 people. Abraham Lincoln once practiced law here. Its proximity to the Mississippi River also made it a great area for bird watching. The Mississippi Flyway is a major migratory route for birds because it lacks obstacles, such as mountain ranges, and provides food, water, and cover throughout its entire length.

Laetitia’s group spent most of the day at Horseshoe Lake Nature Preserve. The natural area surrounds an oxbow lake, created when the curvature of the meandering Mississippi River became so pronounced that the water broke through, forming a new straighter and shorter channel. Eventually the ends of the abandoned meander loop filled in so the lake that is no longer part of the river.

At happy hour in an area bar, Laetitia heard some gossip about a local bird-watching group who seemed to get their ideas from stereotypes in British comedy. They went around in tweeds and pith helmets with oversized binoculars and, according to the conversation, “put on airs.” They became the subject of the limerick of the day.

The Bird Watchers’ Circle from Thebes
Who led tours to watch phoebes and grebes
Viewed themselves as elite
But to folks on the street
They were arrogant, tweed-wearing dweebs.

Day 195: Saint Cloud Crowd

The Mississippi River runs through St. Cloud, Minnesota, but most of the city’s 67,000 inhabitants live on the western side. It is close enough to Minneapolis/St. Paul that some of its residents commute there to work. Laetitia and her group hiked along the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail and visited the Old Depot Railroad Museum in Dassel before arriving at their hotel. St. Cloud has a large number of attractive city parks, and the group explored several of them. A conversation overheard at dinner gave Laetitia the limerick of the day.

A young lady who lived in Saint Cloud
Made noises so excessively loud
Making love in the park
That it made the dogs bark
And it soon drew a very large crowd.

Day 192: Houseguest Distressed

The coffeepot had nearly finished its cycle, and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee was pervading the library of the Emerald Victorian. Laetitia didn’t notice at first. She was deep in thought, trying to decide where to go on this day’s tour. She was going to do Minnesota west of the Mississippi River next, but hadn’t decided yet where to start. She flipped through several guidebooks and looked at maps, but found no inspiration. Then she thought of the Bailey and Hurst books. Rude UK and Rude Britain would be no help, but there might be something in Rude World. She opened its index and found Climax, Minnesota. She was about to close the book and put it back on the shelf when she noticed a place in Austria called “Fucking” (pronounced fooking). Having now made her decision, she poured a cup of coffee and began planning the tour.

It isn’t far from Fargo to Climax, so Laetitia and her group went south to do some hikes near Wild Rice Lake and then visited Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site before heading north to Climax to spend the evening. As was her custom, Laetitia sat at the bar during happy hour and waited to meet her group before dinner. The bartender, as it turned out, was an Anglophile, and had copies of all of the Bailey and Hurst books. He said, “There’s an Austrian couple here from Fucking, named Max and Kate. A while back, Max’s sister, Heidi, decided that she was going to come over here and move in with them. Kate wasn’t especially keen on having a perpetual houseguest, and neither was Max, but, Heidi was kin so what could they do? Max is kind of a prankster, so he faked a copy of the local newspaper using his computer and got a friend down at the newspaper to run a copy on their press after hours. When Heidi arrived, he showed it to her. She was so angry that she went back to Austria after a short visit. He whispered what the headline read, and it became Laetitia’s multiple-verse limerick of the day.”

When an Austrian, Heidi, was booking
A trip from her hometown of Fucking
To the U.S. Midwest
She’d never have guessed
At the headline at which she’d be looking.

She was going ‘cause she had a yen
To live with her American kin
Brother Max and wife Kate
Who live in the state
That is abbreviated M-N.

She’d arrived and lay down to relax
When the paper was brought in by Max
And she leaped from the bed
At the headline that read
“FUCKING WOMAN ARRIVES AT CLIMAX.”